POLITICS

Locker room reno finished on the double after PMO's top gun alerted: docs

06/28/2012 04:28 EDT | Updated 08/28/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - Call him Mr. Fix-It.

When Canada's bid to get into Pacific trade talks hit a snag, the prime minister dispatched his chief of staff to Washington to help smooth things over.

And when a six-week job to replace grotty shower tiles in the Parliament Hill gym turned into a six-month ordeal, Nigel Wright was also on it.

Newly released documents show a locker room repair repeatedly beset by delays was finished on the double after Stephen Harper's right-hand man got involved.

The gym is a short walk from the building that houses the Prime Minister's Office, where Wright works long hours after his marathon morning runs. A profile in the Walrus magazine last year said the former Bay Street bigwig runs an average of 120 kilometres a week.

As Harper's point man on pretty much everything, Wright oversees the PMO, deals with the Conservative party caucus, juggles political hot potatoes and essentially functions as the prime minister's eyes and ears.

And while Wright unwinds with brisk runs on the streets of Ottawa, the gym is a place for political aides, House of Commons staff and the parliamentary press gallery to let off some steam after long days toiling on Parliament Hill.

But the gym was closed early last summer to replace shower tiles in the locker rooms. The work was supposed to be done by the end of August, but the re-opening was pushed back to October, then December and then again until mid-January.

On Jan. 13, Public Works served notice of another indeterminate delay, saying the situation was "beyond our control."

That caught the attention of the Prime Minister's Office.

Harper's principal secretary Ray Novak emailed Wright, another PMO staffer and Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose's chief of staff, Michele Austin. The subject line of his otherwise blank email read "favourite line: 'the situation is beyond our control.'"

Austin forwarded Novak's email to her colleagues with a couple of wry observations.

"Two great things about this email," she wrote.

"1. Nigel Wright is on the chain and 2. I can't wait to find out what 'the situation is beyond our control' means."

The email was among several hundred pages about the gym repairs obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Officials also wrote a memo to Ambrose explaining why the work was taking so long.

The gym finally re-opened a few days after Novak's email. Wright and Novak did not immediately respond to emails about the gym repairs.

Harper's spokesman Andrew MacDougall says Wright has never set foot inside the Parliament Hill gym.

"Nigel doesn't even use the gym and didn't care," MacDougall said. "He was more included just as a 'can you believe this?'"

Public Works and the House of Commons split the $28,000 repair bill. The department says the frequent delays didn't run up the cost.

The locker room reno was one of several construction jobs on and around Parliament Hill. Work is also underway to restore the West Block and Wellington Building.

Across the street, the front entrance to the National Press Building will be shut for two years so construction crews can work on adjacent buildings.